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Palms and Cheers of Hosanna! Passion, Oppression and Forgiveness

The Sunday of the Palm and Passion

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
  he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

This is Palm Sunday, of course. This morning I saw proof of that. Proof that today is Palm Sunday was all around my church this morning—the bright flower arrangement with palm branches as its foundation; the children who processed down the aisles joyfully waving palm branches; the live artist painting beautiful palm branches on her painting; the jubilant singing so filled with ”Hosannas.”

But there is more. In many churches, today is called ”The Sunday of the Palm and Passion.” When we hear the story of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, greeted by a jubilant crowd shouting ”Hosanna!” and waving palm branches, we cannot help but rejoice. But notice also how quickly the cheers of the crowd turned into jeers. Almost instantly, the palm waving stopped and the passion began.

After the green fronds moving gracefully in the breeze become still, we immediately sense passion—the passion that moved Jesus toward death on the cross, the passion we will see and feel in the week ahead.

In this stained glass window entitled ”Christ Crucified,” one can most definitely see an aura of passion. We see color, shape, movement and light that tells all of the story—Palm and Passion and everything in between. The window portrays a Black Jesus with arms outstretched, his right hand symbolizing oppression, his left forgiveness. We see pathos in the stained glass artist’s symbolism of oppression and forgiveness, and perhaps we interpret it as a message for us: that embracing both oppression and forgiveness creates our fullness of life.

The window was a gift to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, from the people of Wales, U.K. in 1964. You might remember that on September 15, 1963, the congregation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama were greeting one another before the start of their Sunday service. In the basement of the church, five young girls, two of them sisters, gathered in the ladies room in their best dresses. It was Youth Day and they were excited about taking part in the Sunday worship service.

Just before 11 o’clock, instead of rising to begin prayers, the congregation was knocked to the ground. As a bomb exploded under the steps of the church, they sought safety under the pews and shielded each other from falling debris. In the basement, four little girls, 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley, were killed. Addie’s sister Sarah survived, but lost her right eye.

There it is. The oppression and forgiveness—The Passion—the passion of Christ, the passion that a church family in Birmingham faced in 1963, the passion being endured right now among the people of Ukraine . . . and the passion that at times leaves each of us brokenhearted and despairing.

Yet, I call your attention back to the stained glass window. Of course, it portrays the passion of Christ, but surrounding his image are signs of hope beyond passion. From across the ocean, another country felt the angst of a church in mourning, parents of little girls laid low. I imagine that this extravagant gift from Wales represents hope beyond passion to this very day for the congregation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

The stained glass visually expresses oppression and forgiveness, yet in its vibrant color and light, shouts of hope beyond passion:

Above Christ’s head, the rainbow colors of his halo. 
Surrounding him, the large circle of blues that looks like eternity.
And Christ’s hands—
his right hand symbolizing oppression and his left, forgiveness.

Whenever we dare to reach down into the soul to find our faith at its very core, we will always find oppression and forgiveness. I think that’s what passion is really about, when all is said and done—oppression and forgiveness.

A Prayer in Remembrance of Christ’s Passion

God of Life and Death,
         As we lean into this holiest of weeks, we will see both,
                     Life and Death.

Life in the waving of palms. 
Life in the cheering of crowd celebrating a king riding a donkey. 
Life in the washing of feet. 
Life in the sharing of the supper we call “Last.” 
Even in the sound of the cock, loudly crowing. 

But we sense this feeling of dread,
because we know also that this will be a week of death,
Even death on a cross. 

Comfort us as we relive the death of Jesus,
The Passion of Christ.
And help us to remember that in life and in death, there is more;
There is more oppression and there is more forgiveness,
and it brings us hope.

There is so much more . . .
After life
After death

There is Resurrection!
Amen.

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Peace, War, Devastation and Hope

Ukraine . . . ”Repair the Ruined Cities”


There are no words enraged enough to write about the horrific devastation in Ukraine!

There are no words angry enough to write about the devastating loss, the despondent people, the frightened children!

There are no words incendiary enough to decry a violent, inhumane Russian military or the power-hungry, evil man that commands them!

There are no words poweful enough to condemn what happened today: that at least 50 people were killed and around 100 injured in a Russian rocket attack on the Kramatorsk train station. The station was being used to evacuate civilians from eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. At least five children were killed in the attack.

There are not enough words to intercede in prayer and lament for a nation destroyed, with a wasteland left behind. Not enough words to cry out for peace. Not enough words to whisper in mourning for the Ukrainian people and their children who have been killed, wounded, and forced to leave their homeland. When will wars be over?

Of course, butterflies will still be beautiful after war, but what do we do in this season of war? How do we help? How should we pray? Where do we go to search for hope for the despondent people of Ukraine? How do we help repair Ukraine’s ruined cities? Of all the sources of hope we could seek, this passage of scripture, Isaiah 61: 1-4, always offers me a sense of new hope amidst devastation.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

A PRAYER FOR PEACE FOR THE UKRAINIAN PEOPLE

God of mercy, Prince of Peace
help us to listen to your holy voice, 
a voice that speaks of peace to all people,
and in this moment, to the despairing people of Ukraine.

Let the sound of your voice resonate within us, 
until a whisper becomes a shout 
which cannot be ignored.

Move us with your love, 
so that our actions echo your peace, 
so that we may offer compassion and comfort to the Ukrainian people, brought low by conflict.

Comfort them, God,
with your peace that is beyond understanding,

beyond all conflict,
stronger than war’s destruction.

Fill us with your hope, O Lord, and 
let peace begin with us.

Quiet the fear and hatred that divides us
as we live into your calling to “repair the ruined cities” in our world,
grace us, in your mercy, with courage and hope,
so that we may see beyond the dark clouds of war, a true and lasting peace;
so that we may see that beyond destruction, there is restoration;
so that we may see that beyond death, there is life everlasting and eternal.

We offer this prayer, O God, with heavy hearts,
Lamenting the evils of war,
longing for a fresh breeze of peace by Spirit wind,
Through Christ our Lord, the eternal Prince of Peace. Amen.


The Prince of Peace
with the World in His Arms

Hear this message of peace offered by the Harlem Boys’ Choir.

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Now . . . We Will Address a Black Woman “Justice”

This is a moment to remember and celebrate! By a vote of 53 to 4, we will call a Black woman “Justice!” The historic pronouncement was made in the United States Senate Chamber by another Black woman, Vice President Kamala Harris.

What a clear picture of the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice! The arc does indeed bend toward all that is right and just. Today the arc bent ever so slightly, yet far enough to cause a nation to celebrate.

This confirmation of soon to be Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is historic for this nation. The first Black woman will serve as a Supreme Court Justice, while her presence will make the Supreme Court look more like America and will more closely reflect the American people.

I stood up from my chair in the living room to join the Democrats who stood to their feet in an extended standing ovation! While we cheered, the Republicans filed out silently, unwilling to offer this highly qualified woman the respect she deserves. I wonder if the fact that they could not get out of there fast enough reflects their shame of how they treated her. I doubt it. I heard this today.

White women have to break glass ceilings.
Black women have to break out of a glass cube.

It’s true I think, especially when I consider that soon to be Justice Jackson endured 24 hours of grueling and often disrespectful questioning. She responded to every disparaging question with grace and dignity throughout the long hours. She knew, as women know all too well, that the first would have to be the best. She probably also knew that her ancestors, remembering their centuries of enslavement, encircled her in solidarity and celebration! A cloud of witnesses, witnessing what must look to them like a miracle!

It was not a resounding YES, but it will be a bright day in our history of days!

Congratulations, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson!

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I Need You to Survive

I tried to remember the name of every person who has prayed for me over the years.
I know that every name does not appear in this image of the dove,
but all of you, and those I left out, are gifts to me.
Thank you all wherever you are.

OThrough eight years of serious illness, dialysis, kidney transplant and all the other areas of my angst, I have heard one very special message again and again from folks I love all over the world. Each person said it to me in a unique way, and remembering their message makes me want to reach out to all of them with deep gratitude. I could never begin to list each of their names, although I tried to in the image of the dove. Their message was a cherished gift . . .

”I need you to survive.”

During a personal life assessment this past week, I thought a lot about this message I heard so many times. I realized that these might be the most loving words I have ever heard. Hearing the words again moved me to a tender time, one of those times when life and death and mortality somehow come to mind. Truth is, I am able to think about these kinds of life things only in my tender times. This week my favorite doctor, who knows a lot about all things tender, said something to me I won’t soon forget . . .

“When you first came to me five years ago, I didn’t think you would live another five years.”

Such a statement would most definitely bring to one’s mind all that is important and all that isn’t. Thinking on her words brought me to the tender moment I have needed for quite a while. I lingered there for a few days, hoping to let my soul rest and my spirit begin to see things in a new way.

It isn’t such a bad place to be right now in the midst of Lent. In fact, Lent is the perfect time to pay attention to my soul and spirit. Lent is the perfect time for tender moments and tender thoughts. Lent is the best time to be tender with myself while searching my spirit for the parts of me that must repent and return to God with all my heart. (Joel 2:12)

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 NRSV

Lent draws me to this psalm and its invitation to God. I might very well need to send this very invitation to God about searching me and knowing me, testing me and knowing my every thought. I come, though, to the part that asks God to see if in me there are “wicked ways.” I’m not so sure I want to do that. I know there are wicked ways in me that I try my best to keep secret. But this is Lent, and God already knows all about that.

During these Lenten days, be tender with yourself. Take a look at your secret wicked ways, but remember that God sends you the message clearly — that you are God’s beloved and that you receive the grace of God’s forgiveness even before you utter a single word of repentance. God’s like that, especially in our tender moments.


In your quiet time, listen for even a minute to this music video and celebrate its joyful message. It lifts my heart every time I hear it.

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Angels of Light

Angels of Grace ~ Artist, Christine Bell

May the angels of light
glisten for us this day.

May the sparks of God’s beauty
dance in the eyes of those we love.

May the universe
be on fire with Presence for us this day.

May the new sun’s rising
grace us with gratitude.

Let earth’s greenness shine
and its waters breathe with Spirit.

Let heaven’s winds stir the soil of our soul
and fresh awakenings rise within us.

May the mighty angels of light
glisten in all things this day.

May they summon us to reverence,
may they call us to life.


— John Philip Newell

Please enjoy this video.

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The Wind Is Ready to Blow!

Pentecost ~ Our Lady of Pentecost Catholic Church ~ Quezon City, Philippines

I’m sitting on the front porch watching the birds and the bugs, admiring my flowers and feeling strong gusts of wind blow everything that’s movable and some things that are not so movable. Like my patio chair! I love a rushing wind blowing over me and, always, it reminds me of Pentecost.

Sunday is my favorite Sunday in the church year — Pentecost Sunday! I hold it as my favorite because I long for Spirit wind in my life — to move me, change me, fill me, refresh me and set me free. Spirit fills me with passion and sets me on a journey, a mission really, to bring Spirit to those who most need new hope. On the Sunday of Pentecost, I feel as if the wind is ready to blow!

When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound
like the rush of a violent wind,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability.

This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,;
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.”

Acts 2:1-4, 16-18

It must have been a shocking surprise, even stunning in its drama. It is no wonder that of all the church seasons, Pentecost has arguably inspired the most stunning art. Artists depict wind, fire, people receiving tongues of fire and all manner of colorful Spirit movement. Pentecost art is filled with movement, unpredictable and free!

D2D60A56-1290-40BA-A47B-45010F087477No doubt, the artists who create art for the season of Pentecost offer us images of color, vibrancy, movement and freedom. I suppose that these qualities are the ones we want in our own lives, especially movement and freedom. The Spirit Wind that blows through my life and yours brings us that movement and freedom, almost as if Spirit removes the bonds that keep us still and stagnant. Instead “we live and move and have our being”* in a God who brings new life when we most need it.

And as for Pentecostal fire, well, we need that, too. It is a Refiner’s fire, a holy fire with the power to burn away everything that holds us back and then to put the “fire” of passion in our souls that inspires us to live out the calling and mission of our lives.

The wonderful news of Pentecost is that we do not have to rely on our own limited power. The great news of all Pentecost is the promise we hear in our souls, “The wind is ready to blow!” This is the hour for us to be permeated with the courage to run with Pentecostal winds and burn with Pentecostal fire. 

God’s Spirit filling means very little to us in the midst of easy days, but in times life these, Spirit within us means everything. In these days of pandemic, police violence, mass shootings, violence in families, hungry children, adults desperate to find work, racial conflict, people marginalized and oppressed, we need to hold on to the promise of holy wind and fire. 

As always, we are left with questions: 

In the midst of this kind of world, what can we possibly do? 
In the midst of my weakness, can I feel the Spirit-wind?
In the midst of grief and loss, can I feel the Spirit-wind?
In the midst of illness and pain, can I feel the Spirit-wind?

The answer is “YES!”

Pentecost can come upon us in the darkest of times, in the most impossible of circumstances . . . when only the wind and the fire of God’s Spirit could begin to pull off the miracle of new life. The Prophet Haggai would say to us: “Take courage! For I am with you. My Spirit abides among you.”

And so I proclaim to us this day, that if we are willing to be moved and changed by Spirit wind and fire, God’s Spirit is able to empower us. God’s Spirit is able to move us from limitedness into new life, to give us courage, to give our tired feet new strength to keep moving forward instead of giving up.

If we are willing, God’s Spirit wind is able to breathe life into us. And when our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, I hope we will remember . . .

That the Spirit of Pentecost will ignite us with a fiery passion that disturbs our complacency. 


That the Spirit of Pentecost longs to baptize us again and again and again with Spirit-fire and move us with Spirit-wind. 

That the Spirit of Pentecost is able to re-kindle within us the courage to proclaim the Gospel of liberation to the ends of the earth.

Take courage! The wind is ready to blow!

Celebration, Funeral, In Memorium, John Lewis, Laughter, Mourning, Tears, Uncategorized

Mourning John Lewis — Celebrating His Life

John Robert Lewis
Laid to Rest on July 30, 2020

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One might have been able to hear church bells ringing this morning, eighty times,
in cities and towns across America, to pay homage to his eighty years of life
.

Later, the headline read, “Three living presidents came together to honor Congressman John Lewis at his funeral today in Atlanta, Georgia.” Yes, three presidents spoke words of mourning, and celebration today — President George W. Bush, President William J Clinton, President Barak Obama. President Jimmy Carter sent his words to be read.
So four living United States Presidents honored John Lewis today. A fifth living United States President did not.

Eloquent words were spoken by so many today at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which has been known best because of its most famous pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We heard stories, memories, words marked with laughter and tears from friends and family members of John Lewis — Rev. Dr. Bernice King, an activist and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s daughter, civil rights pioneer Xernona Clayton, James Lawson,   an activist, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, our three living presidents and many others.

Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.
— President Barak Obama


Americans live in a country that is better today because of John Lewis. John always looked outward, not inward. He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope. John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America.
— President George W. Bush


John always kept walking to reach the beloved community. He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget, he developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters. When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist. He lived by the faith and promise of St. Paul: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart.” He never lost heart. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, but we got our last letter from him today on the pages of the New York Times. Keep moving. It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving.

John Lewis was many things, but he was a man, a friend and sunshine in the storm, a friend who would walk the stony road that he asked you to walk, that would brave the chastening rods he asked you to be whipped by, always keeping his eyes on the prize, always believing none of us would be free until all of us are equal. I just loved him. I always will. And I’m so grateful that he stayed true to form. He’s gone up yonder and left us with marching orders. I suggest since he’s close enough to God to keep his eye on the sparrow and on us, we salute, suit up and march on.
— President Bill Clinton


We come with a flag flown over the Capitol the night that John passed. When this flag flew there, it said goodbye. It waved goodbye to John. Our friend, our mentor, our colleague. This beautiful man that we all had the privilege of serving with.
— Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

That’s when I cried, as I did many times during the four hours I watched this morning, bearing witness to his life, holding vigil at his glag-draped casket I had watched all week. There is no doubt that moving words were uttered today in that holy place where Beloved Community gathered to mourn John Lewis, but none were more full of heart that the words of Ebenezer’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock:

We have come to say goodbye to our friend in these difficult days. Come on, let the nation celebrate, let the angels rejoice … John Lewis, the boy from Troy, the conscience of the Congress. His deeds etched into eternity, he loved America until America learned to love him back.

From 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 

From Revelation 14: 12-13
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them.”

From the works of William Shakespeare
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

 

I cried today, but I laughed a lot, too. I sang a little and — though I did not rise to my feet to dance in celebration of his life well-lived — I still celebrated more than I mourned, because that’s what John Lewis would do. In the end I laughed out loud at the image of mourners dancing their way out of the sanctuary, following the casket, and being glad that John Lewis loved dancing to the music of “Happy Feet!”

Why don’t we all dance our way to Beloved Community!

May God make it so!

Rest in Peace, John Lewis. Rest in Celebration. We got this!

anxiety, Art, Comfort, Courage, Despair, God’s promises, grief, Hope, Life Journeys, Soul, struggle, Suffering, Transformation, Uncategorized

Hope and the Soul’s Struggle

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Struggles abound in this unwelcome COVID19 season we are experiencing. Most of us are touched by this virus in some way. We have struggled with so many life changes. I have watched strugglers of the soul work through the illness, others deal with the suffering and death of a friend or family member, often being unable to be with them at their death. Some parents are struggling with decisions affecting school for their children and teachers fear they will be unable to keep their students (and themselves) safe. Others long to see loved they have not seen in months of social distancing.

My circle of friends and family are feeling short on hope while they experience struggles of the soul. Yet, Herman Melville asserts that “Hope is the struggle of the soul.” I have been wondering what exactly that might mean. Perhaps hope gives us the courage we need to move boldly and full of hope into the place where the soul struggles, moving there with the assurance that the hope that led us there will also lead us to healing.

As I look closer at Melville’s words, I begin to see and understand that hope’s struggle eventually empowers us to break loose from the perishable things we hold on to — our wealth, our home, our “things” like cars, boats, RVs, whatever “things” we cherish. Looking at what this virus could bring, knowing that we are facing real life and death situations, cannot help but move our souls to throw off the things that don’t seem so critical anymore — perishable things we do not need. This thought prompts me to look at two of my favorite passages of Scripture.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors . . .

— 1 Peter 1:18-19 (New International Version)

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:54 (New International Version)

How do we get there? How do we get through the soul struggles that can bring us to our knees?

I don’t think there is a well developed plan or a series of definite steps to take. The path, the plan, will be unique to each struggler. But the soul struggles I have felt throughout my life have taught me to place hope where hope must be: in Comforter Spirit who hovers over me with her sheltering wings; in the Christ who lives in and through me guiding me as a good shepherd and empowering me to walk with courage in his footsteps; in the Eternal God who holds before me, always, my own eternity.

This is what is available to you as well as you lean into hope’s struggle of the soul and break loose from things that are not important as you bear witness to your own eternity.

May God make it so.

As you leave these words and move with hope into your soul struggles,

May the God of hope go with you and fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

— Romans 15:13 (New International Version)

Amen.

I hope you can spend a few minutes in prayer and contemplation as you watch this beautiful, comforting music video, “Still with Thee,” with text written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.